Swin Cash shares a smile at practice. Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Cash Enters 2009 Feeling Better After Back Surgery
For Seattle Storm forward Swin Cash, much of the last two years have been spent suffering from back pain largely in silence. While Cash dealt with her back throughout last season, as she did the previous year in Detroit, the injury did not truly resurface in the public's eye until she contemplated surgery after the WNBA's Olympic break. Cash then missed the Storm's final three games of the regular season before being limited in the playoffs. Only now that Cash has undergone surgery to repair the disc injury in her lower back has the severity of her injury become apparent.
"Every doctor that I went to go see that saw my test results," says Cash now, "kept saying to me, 'We don't understand how you play.' I would laugh and say, 'By the grace of God,' because obviously there was a reason for that or I would have been able to shut it down. But every single doctor that I saw couldn't believe it. These are all top-notch doctors across the country that have dealt with other athletes. That made me stronger to know, even though I was injured, I was able to fight through it and still be out there."
"Every year I got a false sense," explains Cash, "because I would rehab the crap out of it in the offseason, then come back into the season feeling good and give it a month or two and break down. You can train and train and train in the offseason, but until you get into game contact and the grind of maybe having a back-to-back, getting on a plane, flying somewhere and playing the next day, you really can't gauge where it's at."
Storm guard Sue Bird, Cash's teammate dating back to when they were roommates at UConn, was in a similar position in the 2007 season. She underwent knee surgery midseason to clean up scar tissue from an earlier microfracture knee surgery. Before deciding she could not play any longer, Bird suited up for every game and said little about the condition of her knee, but it affected her game and caused her numbers to drop.
"I think that can really weigh on you - especially when you feel like it's hampering you and not allowing you to play the way you want to play," explains Bird. "With that comes critics. You almost want to yell at them, scream out, 'I'm injured - I'm doing my best.'"
Certainly, Cash has heard the whispers about whether she is the same player in the wake of her last two seasons and whether her back is healthy.
"Obviously, I'm aware that there's question marks by my name," she says. "It up to me to go out there and play and show I'm back and what I can do. I don't think anyone's ever questioned my heart, but obviously my body has questions.
"It's a lot of motivation, because I know the kind of player that I am. That's why, for me, it's not about a lot of talking right now. It's about going out there and playing hard and working through whatever it is and having fun.
"I got a text from Elaine Powell, one of my teammates for a number of years in Detroit. The last thing she said at the end was, 'Have fun. Please.' She knows how anal I can get. I'm so the professional that thinks about it and moves along. She wants me to have fun, and I want to get back to that - smiling on the court and having fun with my teammates. It's important."
Her Storm teammates and the coaches noticed last year that the back injury affected Cash's outlook. Already, they've seen a difference this season during training camp.
"The first time I got out here on the floor, Brian (Agler) and I were talking, and he said, 'You seem so lively, so happy,'" says Cash, echoing what Agler told the media earlier this week. "That's the type of person that I am. That's how I've always played - I'm lively out there and communicating and trying to encourage teammates. When you're on the court (injured), you're so worried about yourself. Can you run right? Are you galloping? Are you favoring one side or the other? It's not conducive to this game that we play."
"Dealing with an injury can be really frustrating," adds Bird. "I know for Swin it's something that, starting with her ACL five years ago, she's been dealing with. That kind of led to the back. What I think you're seeing in her is the minute you're healthy it's this huge weight lifted off your shoulders. You're able to play at the level that you're used to. I think when players play hurt, a lot of critics come along with that, because you're not playing up to your ability. So for Swin, I think this year is something she's really looking forward to just from a standpoint of being healthy."
What players like Bird can understand, but is hard to see from the outside, is the impact that a serious injury like Cash's back has on a player's entire life - not just the couple of hours she is on the court.
"It affected my life in a number of ways," adds Cash. "You can't put the time in to work on your game, to get as physical as you need to be and prepare and get better because you're so worried about not irritating your back. Your back is the core of everything: Your movement, your jumping ability, being able to bend over to get into defensive position. People don't understand how much that's affected."
Now, Cash is thrilled to be back on the court. In a coincidental case of bad timing, swelling in her left knee caused by an allergic reaction has kept Cash out of practice the last two days. However, Agler had nothing but praise to offer for Cash's first session with the team where she was cleared for full contact and live basketball, saying she looked "exceptional." The anticipation remains that Cash will be able to return to practice Wednesday and will be available when the Storm starts the season Saturday in Sacramento (1 p.m., Alternative Talk 1150 AM).
"I feel good," says Cash. "I feel like I was running the floor well at practice. Defensively, I felt a little quicker. Running around screens, taking little bumps didn't bother me. For me, I think to be honest with you it's just going to be a matter of consistently getting my body used to the cardio and getting my wind together. I've always been a player that if I need to be out there 40 minutes, I can get it done. I need to build back up to that. I'm sure it won't take that long with all these games we have coming up and practices."